Drake used to irk me a lot. Now, he merely just irks me. How’s that for direct disclosure.
Not because of the common reasons. Yes, he can be overly schmaltzy in his music. He can come off hollow and like a cornball. And when he’s not expressing his sorrow for unrequited and unfulfilled love, he gets downright escapist.
Money, women, drinks, smokes, recycle, then again.
How does that stand out in an era inundated by much of the same vices? It’s the figure, or the medium, if you will. From his half-Jewish heritage to his previous exposure to the world through the teen drama Degrassi to the suspicion that he’s a guy you don’t want around if a conflict breaks out, he is an easy target in an industry where street ethos (Rick Ross notwithstanding) is the primary currency. On top of that, here is a Canadian-born artist with an adopted Southern accent palling around with Lil Wayne, Bun B and Kanye.
It just seems too easy. He appeals to white America, and 2011 or not, there is still the nagging notion of inauthenticity that comes with having a broad “other” fanbase.
Then there’s the hanging punchlines and manufactured steez. To many, he just seems…forced.
None of these reasons actually bother me. The source of my agitation as it relates to Drake? The tease.
There’s no denying the intelligence and talent that Aubrey Graham possesses on the mic. In an odd way, he seems likable off the mic. Drake has a gift that’s evident to anybody who’s listened and worked with him; a sound that can be as magnetizing as it is clever. But when you make music from a package with the aforementioned traits and your music becomes ubiquitous, there is a certain effect your music has that raises accountability.
Artists are respected for their work ethic, originality — even if that originality is only in the packaging — and producing art that relates to the human experience. Drake comes through on all three. So what’s the problem?
Well for one, he sells powerful emotions. Love, rejection, euphoria, hurt. When So Far Gone was released, there was promise. Gone is arguably the greatest rap mixtape of all-time in terms of its quality, “who is this?!” factor and mass reception. Signing with Universal eroded that vulnerability (or at least the perception of it) and replaced it with more banal bravado and empty frivolity.
The emotions stayed, but the depth didn’t.
As is the case with many artists who sign distribution deals with major labels, music tends to be diluted in favor of “mainstream” appeal (the definition of which seems to change every year).
Gone came and lifted anticipation. Despite his stellar numbers since, he doesn’t seem interested in finishing the job started “when he dropped the mixtape” and the “sh– sounded like an album.”
Thank Me Later featured more slow dopey tracks than desired from a rapper as gifted as Drake, but many of the subjects very thoughtful and relatable. On its veneer however, it was an example of a rapper gone Downy on us, which might be a bit unfair. In fact, one of the greatest of our time, Kanye West, is just as revealing and openly insecure. Yet, ‘Ye comes through because people sense strength even in his weak moments (personal tragedy and the co-sign of Jay-Z doesn’t hurt either).
Drake isn’t there and doesn’t seem to care. Songs like “Marvin’s Room” highlight this. There’s a difference between airing hurts just to vent and airing hurts that present opportunities for reconciliation and growth. Great artists have the ability to emphasize the latter; to make weakness sound strong.
It’s not that Drake lies about his pains as much that he doesn’t go far enough in vetting them. I’m not sure if it’s because of inability or unwillingness.
But there is a silver lining in his approach. Whining about a lost love while downing her current one is the sappiest of the sap. But who among us would argue that this isn’t common? After all, isn’t bearing witness of common pains and scenarios what we demand of our artists? Whether Drake’s “stories” are agreeable or not, his quest to make himself a martyr of sorts in his storytelling is applaudable.
Like it or not, he is very much a culturally relevant and fascinating figure because of this.
Drake gives me (us) enough in the way of catchy hooks and glib flow and relatable rhymes to keep my ear attuned to the latest singles he drops. Even as disappointment mounts and the bathos goes unabated, I don’t ever see myself not giving a damn.
A conundrum indeed.